A season of discontent: Political unrest grows in Westminster

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 10/29/20

Political unrest is a national past time in America these days. Starting at the macro level, Westminster is a sliver of the national uproar and rhetoric regarding both the presidential and Colorado …

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A season of discontent: Political unrest grows in Westminster

Posted

Political unrest is a national past time in America these days.

Starting at the macro level, Westminster is a sliver of the national uproar and rhetoric regarding both the presidential and Colorado U.S. senatorial races. Throw in racial unrest, unemployment, the COVID19 impacts and the mask issue and you have a full dose of national turmoil and distress.

The races at the state and county levels seem pretty clear without the same chaos with Democrats garnering even more support than the 2018 elections. Then we come to the local communities.

Remember the old saying of “when it rains; it pours?” Well, the Westminster city government seems to be an example of this expression. Mistrust among citizens on different issues seems to be expanding, just like COVID-19 has spread in Adams County. The consternation with the spike in new cases could produce stay-at-home orders yet this fall if we don’t watch it. With virus-fatigue at play, no one is eager to even think about self-quarantine.

Water rate hikes are a major stressor

Turning to the microfocus of political unrest, the root cause of some of the different issues in Westminster are generated from actions or inactions taken by the city government’s council and city manager.

Let’s start with the obvious. The huge water rate increases approved in October 2018 really hit home this summer and has led to the recall petition drive targeting Herb Atchison, Anita Seitz, Kathryn Skulley and Jon Voelz.

This effort has divided the community which is unfortunate, but not unexpected. Some say that appointed council member Jon Voelz has unfairly been included. However, remember earlier this year, he and the other three being targeted had the distinct opportunity to roll back the 2020 water rate increase to give utility customers some relief. He and the other three turned a cold shoulder to this idea raised by Council member Seymour and supported by Council members DeMott and Smith.

The recall petition process comes to an end on October 31. Then the City Clerk’s Office will determine if there are sufficient valid signatures for a special election. If there are, then candidates will need to run against those up for recall. If not, the attempted recall fails.

City Manager in the hot seat

Then there is the issue of the City Manager’s performance tied to his employment contract and future status. Recently, there was an outpouring of dissent and an expression of “no confidence” in Don Tripp from a group of citizens. A vote on his four year contract and $304,00 annual salary will have likely been at the October 26 City Council meeting. Tripp is already the highest-paid city manager in Colorado.

Clearly, one of the issues with his continued employment is a lack of trust, an unwillingness to modify previous decisions and his undue influence of the mayor and three of the City Council over such issues as the utility rates, extensive high-density development, adequate water resources and weekly one-on-one closed-door meetings with only a portion of the City Council.

It’s important to note that any salary increase approved now would cost the taxpayers if Tripp is terminated. He has a 12-month severance package in his employment contract.

Controversial apartment plan

Just recently, city staff decided to move ahead on the controversial senior apartment rezoning of city-owned land at the southwest corner of 73rd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard, a former service station and vehicle repair shop. A public hearing on this same property had been canceled earlier this year due to pending loose ends with HUD involving the city-owned property.

Now, the staff has re-triggered a public hearing which will be conducted virtually without people having the opportunity to be physically in front of the Planning Commission in the Council Chambers. Then, the same thing will occur with the City Council holding its virtual public hearing.

As numerous people previously stated, this is not a fair process. No public hearings should be held until City Hall is open to the public for public hearings. What’s the hurry in changing the zoning to allow more apartments? Why is the public’s voice being compromised?

As I said before, no public hearings should be conducted without the public being able to physically attend and participate. Otherwise, the process is flawed.

Status of “New Downtown”

The issue of the new urban center, aka New Downtown at the former Westminster Mall site, remains a big question mark with citizens. While the City Council decided in July to drop the language of being the “next urban center in Colorado” due to considerable opposition from citizens, the future status of the New Downtown and its high-density residential designation remains uncertain.

Staff and city council rejected a citizen’s budget request to redo and update the New Downtown land use plan. Some of us wonder if dropping the “urban center” designation was simply lip service and the majority of City Council and staff will continue to support more high-density apartment development and increased traffic generated at the subject site.

Again, trust is lacking. Coupled with the New Downtown, there is much basic concern with excessive apartment development in various locations. As per the 2020 Community Survey results, residents are tired of more and more high-density apartment complexes popping up.

Standley Lake boaters still fuming

Another group of citizens who continue to feel slighted by the city staff’s previous decision to stop powerboating at Standley Lake. This issue continues to get cussed and discussed. While it does not encompass a large group of Westminster citizens, it still is an unhappy group.

Uplands development plans lingers

We don’t want to forget the Pillar of Fire development proposal. It has taken a lower level on the radar as the developer’s total preliminary development plan for the whole 230-acre site continues to stall at the Planning Staff level with red lines and conflicting changes produced by the city staff.

Some people in the adjacent area including unincorporated Shaw Heights have expressed their disdain for the proposed development of “The Farm” even though it would provide considerable home ownership.

Advisory question on wards/districts nixed for 2020

Finally, more citizens than what Mayor Atchison and Councilors Seitz, Skulley and Voelz would acknowledge had wanted an advisory question on the November 2020 ballot regarding exploring geographical representation of the City Council I.e. wards/districts.

This was rejected on a 4-3 vote with Councilors DeMott, Seymour and Smith supporting the ballot measure. A whole year was unnecessarily wasted by the majority to let citizens have their say on this important matter. Personal disdain for the concept of wards/districts played a role in the majority of the council saying “no” for 2020.

Puzzling as it may seem, the whole council committed to a 2021 ballot question.

Serious change is needed and needed now!

In summary, different Westminster citizens have different issues with members of City Council and Don Tripp over their decisions and how they are being treated. When you pull it all together, it’s a hot smoldering mess with decision-making and communications gone awry. New leadership and new representation are on the lips of a growing number of voters.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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